The other reviews on this page cover the genesis and character of Handel's little choral entertainment, so I won't revisit those issues here. I'll simply state that if the work isn't top-drawer Handel, it certainly comes from high on the pile in Handel's full-to-bursting second drawer. The music is unfailingly bright (some of that has to do with the range of the voices involved--mostly high voices), attractive, and written with Handel's usual care to convey the personalities and emotional equipage of his dramatis personae. So Pleasure's music often fairly dances, while Virtue's plies a steadier, more high-minded musical course. The chorus, in Greek chorus fashion, provides perfect commentary on the slight action of the piece.
As the notes to the recording point out, Hercules' final aria and the final chorus are both in the minor key. There seems to be some commentary here on Handel's part: the road of virtue may be an elevated one, but it's not without potholes. That road, of course, led our hero to his irksome Twelve Labors and to a terrible death right out of, well, Greek mythology. But that's beyond the scope of Handel's little work, even if the master glances toward the later life of Hercules in those somber final pages of "The Choice."
The anthem "Heaken unto Me, Ye Holy Children" (1728), with verses from the Apocrypha and Psalms, is at first glance a curious choice as a makeweight. The composition's theme, certainly, is virtue (or its religious analog, holiness), but this is clearly a sacred work that recalls, in its finest pages--a duet for tenor and countertenor and a solo for bass--the sacred music of--who else? Handel. Yet the pieces I'm reminded of were written perhaps ten years after Greene's work: Handel's anthem "Sing Unto God" and "The Lord Is a Man of War" from Israel in Egypt! Greene's choruses may be routine and four-square compared to Handel's, but the vocal writing is expert, and I'm glad for the opportunity to know this work.
In sum, an important offering from the always enterprising Robert King and Hyperion. The singing and playing are of the highest order as well, and it's all captured in Hyperion's usual clean, airy sonics.